Higher Payroll Taxes Hurt the Economy

It’s hard to describe how happy I am to see Wal-Mart (WMT) facing a slump. I’m delighted to see that the cause of Walmart’s problem is the 2% increase in Social Security withholding taxes.

It’s not just Walmart that is feeling the pinch from higher payroll taxes. According to today’s WSJ damn near every company that has a retail sales base is getting nicked.

We are witnessing what happens when tax rates go up. There is (new) definitive evidence that raising taxes decreases consumption. That notion is an old one, but I think the reality that is now being proven out in real time has to make a difference in how people think about taxes, government spending and the real economy.

Who is responsible for the increase in payroll taxes that is causing all the damage? Don’t blame the evil Republicans for this one. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party INSISTED that payroll taxes had to go up on January 1. Want to blame someone for the slump in retail? Blame Harry Reid (D-NV).

Why would liberal Democrats want to whack their base with higher taxes? Easy answer. Because they love Social Security more than anything else. They would sacrifice anything, including the economy and their political base, to protect SS from the criticism that it was no longer “Off budget and self financed”.

What an idiotic position. And now those who fought to get the full 12.4% tax reinstated are going to have to pay the price. The evidence is overwhelming; higher payroll taxes hurt the economy.

I’ve felt alone the past 4 years while writing articles on a weekly basis trying desperately to make the point that SS is at the heart of America’s economic problems. I have been vindicated. The ranks of those who will point fingers at SS is going to swell. Those apposed are now going to include all of the big retailers (and their shareholders). That will be a tremendous boost for those who are crying for substantial changes in America’s biggest entitlement program. I can’t wait for ‘them” to publicly come on-board to the opposition.

We are living with a program that was designed 75 years ago. Everything has changed – but not SS. The assumptions that were used in the 1930’s are no longer valid today. The ratio of workers to beneficiaries has fallen by 70%. The ratio of worker’s income to GDP has fallen steadily (the rise of the robots). We have substantial changes in expected life. The most significant challenge to SS is the Baby Boomers. Not one of the Boomers was a twinkle in the eye when SS was created.

America is driving a 77-year-old car. The car is dangerous. It has none of the modern safety devices; it burns leaded gas and has asbestos brake pads. It weighs twice as much as a new car, and only gets 8 miles to the gallon. Yet a small portion of the Deciders in D.C. have blocked any chance of bringing SS up to date, and making it safe to drive for the next 20 years.

The Social Security Trust Fund has said that to “fix” SS would require an immediate and permanent increase in PR taxes of 2.2% (above the 12.4% today). Based on the evidence of the past few months it’s easy to conclude that a tax increase of that magnitude would push the economy into a recession – Once in a slump, the economy would be hard pressed to recover.

Not only would higher PR taxes kill the economy, it would hurt lower paid workers the hardest. The evidence from Walmart reconfirms the fact that SS taxes are very regressive. They hurt the base of people that the liberals claim they are trying to protect. How can Senator Reid defend that outcome? He can’t.

There is an alternative. It would mean that we would have to junk the old clunker and get new, safe, energy efficient car. The new car would be expensive, but the payoff would be worth it.

SS taxes can’t be eliminated. The program is too big and very hard to unwind and IT IS needed. But SS taxes could be reduced by 3% if changes were made (Employer taxes would remain the same, worker’s payroll tax would fall from 6 to 3%).

The changes required to achieve the reduction in taxes have been discussed for years. There has to be changes in age eligibility over a longer period of time. Changes to inflation adjustments have to be made. There has to be an immediate means tax on benefits to fill the Baby Boomer bucket. The means test HAS to be based on both income AND assets. You can’t be a multimillionaire and get SS checks. That has to stop. Now. SS is, and always has been insurance. If you don’t need the insurance, you don’t get paid.

IMHO if individual payroll taxes were cut 50% from the current level, the economy would prosper. Unemployment would fall, incomes would rise. Federal tax revenues would increase, in the process, the deficits would fall. A permanent reduction in payroll taxes is the only chance I see for a sustained expansion of the economy.

So to the Execs at Walmart, and all of those other retailers that are feeling the SS pinch, I say “Welcome to the club”. You can be the wind behind the sails for the changes that are needed. Just this once I will say that what is good for Walmart, is also good for America.

Note: Stan Druckenmiller (ex Duquesne Capital) was on TV last night with Maria Bartiromo . Stan is a very sharp guy. He said the same as I have. It’s idiotic that he gets a check from SS. The $200k he might get back in his life is not going to change his spending one bit. But it would make a world of difference to those who are making $40k a year. The Zero Hedge link to the Druckenmiller interview.

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About Bruce Krasting 208 Articles

Bruce worked on Wall Street for twenty five years, he has been writing for the professional press for the last five years and has been on the Fox Business channel several times as a guest describing his written work.

From 1990-1995 he ran a private hedge fund in Greenwich Ct. called Falconer Limited. Investments were driven by macro developments. He closed the fund and retired in 1995. Bruce also been employed by Drexel Burnham Lambert, Citicorp, Credit Suisse and Irving Trust Corp.

Bruce holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Ithaca College and currently lives in Westchester, NY.

Visit: Bruce Krasting's Blog

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